Saturday, November 12 (Day 74)
Falealupo – Alofaaga Blowholes - Aganoa Beach Retreat & Rainforest
Another howling storm wakes me during the night and leaves me temporarily disoriented. Where the hell am I? Oh, yeah, I remember – edge of the world, middle of the Pacific Ocean. I’ve no idea what time it is. Maybe it is 2, maybe it is 4, but the realisation that I am horizontal in a hut on an island in the Pacific is causing my head to spin. How can it be possible that I am here, in a part of the world I thought I’d never see nor experience? Am I really experiencing this or is it all a dream? Do I really exist? Why do we exist?
Yep, all those old chestnuts; those questions about reality and existence are rushing around my head as the wind howls, the rain lashes and the waves crash. With a momentary lull in the storm I can hear my own heart beating and it scares me. Sometimes, it just feels like none of this is really happening; that my life isn’t real. I guess that everybody has these kinds of thoughts occasionally but it worries me just how often this stuff occupies my mind. I mean, what is the point of it all, really? Just to be born, grow up, work and make babies? And just so the babies you’ve created end up doing exactly the same thing with their lives? Isn’t that a bit pointless? Futile? Is life just about trying to make the most from the chances we are given? Is the meaning of life the attainment of contentment and happiness for us and our loved ones?
With these thoughts darting around my head, I open my fale at 7am to nip to the communal toilet and the first thing I see is a giant black pig, with twizzled white tusks and eyes that look strangely human, strolling casually past me in the opposite direction. Oink, oink, oink he says. Yes, morning fella
As if to further test my grasp on reality….stood at the local bus stop hoping for transport south it begins to rain on one tree. Literally, it is tipping it down on a single half-a-metre wide banyan tree, whilst the rest of the local foliage is bathed in sunlight. Our resident weather forecaster, Scorchio, says he’s never seen anything like it. I am not sure I would like to predict the weather in Samoa he tells me, the two of us roaring with laughter at this bizarre spectacle.
Talking of futile, Claudia (aka Barbara/Stephanie) and I jump off the local bus at Alofaaga so that we can explore the world famous blowholes located there. Scorchio and Glass Knee have already visited here so they continue on the bus to Aganoa. The chat I’ve read and been told is that this is home to some of the world’s most spectacular blow holes. It is probably four hours since high tide and the calm after yesterday’s storm means that there is very little wind and ocean swell. Consequently, there are no 40-metre blasts of water up into the heavens. The best the elements muster up is probably a 15-metre high ejaculation. Still, not bad. Beats Croydon of a Saturday afternoon.
Aganoa Beach Resort is located within a protected rainforest reserve. This is an absolutely gorgeous secluded spot, only reachable by paying to enter the rainforest reserve and then walking two kilometres down a winding single track road. There’s a wooden deck restaurant and bar built just above the beach and a dozen fale, ringed by the rainforest and the beach. Aganoa is also something of a surfers’ paradise with a long, prominent reef located just 400 metres or so offshore. At high tide, when the swell is strong, the waves are epic, looking like the opening credits for Hawaii Five Oh, for anybody who is old enough to remember that programme. With only two sessions of surfing to my name this place is well out of my league. I genuinely think that there is a good chance I would get myself killed if I tried to join the half dozen experienced surfers staying here and attempted to surf off this reef. With the good weather appearing to return in the late afternoon for the first time in a week, I am more than happy to spend my time here horizontal on its gorgeous beach and hopping in and out of the crystal clear waters, which are full of curious fish and many of the 200 different varieties of coral found in Samoa.
Part of me wishes that I could extend this trip for another three months to take in another half dozen South Pacific states but during the past couple of days I have also been feeling a bit exhausted by the constant battle with mosquitos, cockroaches (I found one five inches long in my bed earlier) and the like. Because of the past seven days’ stormy weather it has been impossible to get clothes dry and half of my rucksack is full with wet or damp t-shirts, pants and shorts that smell like they’ve been living in a Chinese workers’ cellar for a couple of months. The humidity, until today, has been stifling and the stormy weather begins to get you down. As a great improvement on New Zealand and the world of dormitories I do have accommodation to myself these days but, I must admit, clean white sheets devoid of mosquito nets and coconut palm window shutters does appeal. Basically I would love to continue this adventure but I would need to book into a four star for one night, get properly cleaned up, all my clothes washed and ironed and to spend a night in a bed with air con before I could set off on another leg.
Friday, November 11 (Day 73)
Manase – Falealupo, Savai’i (Samoa)
Heading out on the northern coast road the first sight of note that we come across is a striking 100-year-old catholic church bigger than many European cathedrals. This is apparently for a village of 500 inhabitants. There are 362 villages in Samoa. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more than six or seven hundred churches. Nobody does churches quite like the Samoans do.
Our one hour taxi ride crosses a huge lava field and dissects thick rainforest full of banyan trees before continuing past rubber tree plantations. There are also long stretches of craggy, tourist-free coast until we reach the town of Asau. The driver tells me that Savai’i’s first runway was on an offshore reef that we can see around 4 kilometres out to sea from the coast road. First the Yanks, then the Aussies, and finally the Kiwis used this air strip for the now defunct local saw mill, which they took turns at running, as well as whatever else they wanted to get up to with a conveniently anonymous offshore coral reef runway. Now, I’m not suggesting of course that the US government would ever use a little known airfield in the middle of nowhere to perpetrate illegal acts. Oh no, not the American government and military…
Our driver drops us off at beach fale right on the far western tip of the island. There is a fantastic deserted beach here with reef protecting us from the elements and just seven fale on the sand facing out to sea. We bag four of them.
Come they told him, a rup-a-pum-pum
A new born king to see, a rup-a-pum-pum, rup-a-pum pum, rup-a-pum-pum
Yeahhhhh, come they told him. Yeahhh, to behold him. Relax. Rewind DJ
This Vocodered Samoan Reggae Rap Christmas selection really is some of the most astoundingly bad music I’ve heard in my entire life. But it is actually so bad that, in the end, you just can’t help but love it.
As we look at our watches, incredibly, it is a couple of minutes shy of eleven minutes past eleven on Armistice Day. Our location here on the peninsula is not only the most western part of Samoa but also the most western point on the entire planet. As we look out to sea from here, everything out there exists in ‘tomorrow’. We are quite literally looking out across the sea almost 24 hours into the future. Just beyond this beach is the International Dateline, meaning that any boat we might spot out there on the high seas is bobbing up and down on the waves on the morning of Saturday, November 12th. The fact that we are here on the very edge of the world at 11:11 on the 11.11.11 is more than a little bit of a head spin for all present.
Interestingly enough, it is said that before the Christian missionaries arrived, this peninsula was believed to be the gateway for souls into the next world. It is fitting, I guess, that a place with such a legend should end up serving as ‘the gateway to tomorrow’ several centuries later when Greenwich was chosen as the location from where world time zones are measured and west of Samoa as the location of the International Dateline.
Stephanie and I join Glass Knee and Scorchio for a trip out to the nearby Banyan tree canopy walk. It’s another six quid job and I’m not inclined to cash out that much for a vertiginous walk between two trees, especially after enjoying such pleasures on a far grander scale in Borneo. So instead I stay and chat to the Matai (village chief). Adjacent they are using the funds gained here wisely to build a brand new longhouse school, which will have ten classrooms and educate local kids from primary up to high school age. Canada has also thrown in some cash to help finance the project and, with the local men of the village expected to volunteer their manual work for free, things are coming along swimmingly. The banyan tree is 230 years old and locals used to – but truthfully probably still do – believe that the tree is home to spirits. Out of rainy season tourists can sleep up in the tree’s canopy under the stars with only a mosquito net for protection. If we slept there now one or two of us would probably get blown or washed off the canopy to our certain deaths.
Back at our temporary home for the night, another violent storm rolls in off the sea and the fale’s odd job man does a good job of securing our temporary homes from the elements with ropes and plastic sheeting. We all cower inside our respective huts, each of us, I suspect, feeling rather in the hands of Mother Nature. This storm is like a mini-typhoon and I am starting to wonder what the hell we will do to keep ourselves safe if one hits this island in the coming days. There’s testimony to the power of nature only 200 metres from here where the half-remaining shell of an abandoned Catholic church remains after this part of the island was ravaged by two hurricanes in 1990 and 1991. With the worst over, we are all inclined to lie low for the next hour either reading or pulling a siesta.
I finish A Clockwork Orange, a book that now finds its place in my ten favourite reads. If you like Orwell or Huxley, or J D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, this is the book for you. Stanley Kubrick’s 1972 film version of this masterpiece – a film still banned in the UK (for the obvious fear of the effect it might have on ferule street gangs) – does no real justice to Anthony Burgess’ original story and even drops the all-important final chapter of the tale.
The meals are getting worse. We all feel like we might come down with food poisoning after tonight’s dubious offering. That aside though, this location on the edge of the world is simply stunning, and I especially like the open-air shower where everybody can see you bathing naked.